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City parks must attract youngsters

Kudos to Baltimore for being recognized as one of the top cities for its parks and outdoor resources ("Baltimore's parks slip to 21st in nation," June 5). There's no question that open spaces and parks can contribute to a healthier, even more prosperous community. Except just having great parks does not seem to have the pizazz needed to lure teens and young adults outdoors.

As summer vacation looms for America's youth, their focus will be directed largely at zombie warriors, space aliens and warships, or mega-armies battling mythical beasts raging from video games, not so much on outdoor activities. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that today's young people spend nearly eight hours in front of a screen every day and just minutes outdoors and active — leading to what many are calling "nature deficit disorder." This disconnection from the outdoors is contributing to increased environmental apathy as well as major health challenges such as obesity and ADHD among youth.

At Outdoor Nation, the Millennial generation is working to buck this trend. And their voice has been sorely lacking in discussions about outdoor policies and resources while an old guard faces a leadership challenge from them in trying to get more people outdoors. They deliver a passion and creativity that is matched by their incredible ability to mobilize their peers around issues they care about. Already they have mobilized thousands of young people, organized scores of outdoor outings, and reached out to youth from Atlanta to Boston to Chicago and other communities.

So Baltimore's parks are great, without a doubt, but if nobody is in them we diminish their value and face serious risks to our communities health and well being.

Chris Fanning, Washington, D.C.

The writer is executive director of The Outdoor Foundation.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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